NORTH SMITHFIELD – After four years of trying to compel the owner of a Victory Highway property to clean up debris and follow zoning laws, members of the North Smithfield Town Council are now considering filing a lawsuit in state Superior Court.
The highly visible property at 905 Victory Highway, owned by the Mongeon Family Trust, is home to numerous piles of asphalt, dirt, equipment, dumpsters and downed trees.
Town building and zoning officials first asked owner Michael Mongeon of North Smithfield Tree Service to clean up the lot in 2016, and in June of this year, some 30 neighbors on nearby Homecrest Avenue and Ferrier Street signed a petition asking councilors to take action, calling the property an eyesore.
Mongeon uses the lot to house his tree service business, a use not permitted on the business highway property, leading town officials to issue several citations over the past several years.
But Mongeon reportedly did not show up for his recent municipal court appearance scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 18, prompting Judge Aram Jarret to recommend the town file suit in the higher court.
Through his attorney Joseph Lamagna, Mongeon contended this week that he has been unable to find a suitable property in town where he can relocate his business.
“Mr. Mongeon finds himself in an impossible situation where he had his business located at a site that he and the other owner of the site thought was properly zoned for a number of years ,” said Lamagna. “We’re here to indicate that we want to cooperate fully.”
Lamagna noted that Mongeon runs a taxpaying, five-star rated business that is hired by customers including municipalities and utility companies, and is in need of a lot in a properly industrialized zone.
“It’s impossible to just completely shut down,” the attorney said. “We want to stay in town. We just need a little help in finding a spot.”
Councilors weren’t swayed by the testimony, noting that the issue has been ongoing for years.
“It’s not in our purview,” Councilor Paul Vadenais said of finding an alternative lot for the business at the council’s meeting Monday night. “Our purview is to enforce the laws of the town.”
“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” added Vadenais of the property, located across from Slatersville Plaza. “Unregistered vehicles, illegal dumping… a whole number of issues.”
“It just continues to get out of control,” he said. “Municipal court isn’t going to do anything about it. It’s just very unfair to those people.”
“I don’t see the point in sending it back to municipal court,” agreed Council President John Beauregard, adding, “It’s not the job of the government to help Mr. Mongeon to find another location.”
Beauregard said he wanted the council to move forward with legal action, but that Mongeon could make an effort to clean up the property in the meantime.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Beauregard said of the potential lawsuit. “We can always stop if we see that you’re making effort.”
Vadenais agreed that the town should pursue a cease and desist order.
“He’s not showing that he’s even trying to get better,” said Vadenais. “Our municipal court, in my opinion, has failed us in this respect. We’re not going to keep spending our resources on this thing. Right now, he’s not being fair.”
Councilors also took up appointments to various positions Monday, at their first meeting following the November election, and Vadenais cast the sole vote against the reappointment of Jarret.
Solicitor David Igliozzi, who was also reappointed for a two-year term Monday, said such action would constitute a proactive lawsuit, would fall outside the normal defense of the town, and would require a budget.
Igliozzi said he plans to further advise the board on the issue, along with updating newly-elected councilors on other ongoing legal matters in executive session at the council’s next meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 21.